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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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Washington's power play goes 0 for 8 in a loss to the hot Florida Panthers.

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Ovechkin-Less Caps Fall to the Panthers

Posted on 02 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have the best power play in the National Hockey League, but on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, it was the single biggest reason they lost to the Florida Panthers, 5-2, in a game they dominated at even strength.

Coming out of the NHL All Star break the Caps looked strong early on putting lots of shots towards the Florida net, but either Al Montoya (36 saves) stopped the puck or Washington missed the net. Starting at 5:51 of that opening frame, the Panthers would take five penalties to three for the Capitals. That set up a special teams battle and a club that is typically excellent on those occasions was flat out awful in this one. The Caps, without Alexander Ovechkin, who was suspended by the clowns in New York who run the league because he took an All Star Game off due to injury, squandered two five on three opportunities by taking bad offensive zone penalties. Those infractions were both of the lazy and not moving your feet variety.

Just past the 10 minute mark of period one, the Caps turned the puck over in the offensive zone and Jaromir Jagr outworked Brooks Laich for the biscuit in the Washington defensive zone. The long haired freaky person then fed Jonathan Huberdeau, who was parked in the slot between Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov, for an easy one in front of Philipp Grubauer (14 saves).

That goal was the first deflator as Washington had carried the play up to that point, but due to Montoya, some missed quality chances, and a bad back check and defensive zone coverage they trailed, 1-0.

Just over four minutes later, the Panthers would quickly cash in on their five on three power play in easy fashion. It took all of 14 seconds for Nick Bjugstad and Huberdeau to feed Alexsander Barkov for a simple back door goal to make it 2-0.

After 20 minutes, there was still some hope for Washington, but then Grubauer gave up the softest goal allowed by a Caps net minder all season on a bad angle, short side shot to Vincent Trocheck. That made it 3-0 and the air totally came out of the Capitals and the Verizon Center.

Washington would continue to get shots and man advantages, but at the end of 40 minutes, they had eight power plays and no goals. They clearly missed their captain as T.J. Oshie assumed the Ovi position and struggled, failing to get his shot off quickly. Simply put, #77 in that spot was a bad fit.

Huberdeau, who was easily the best player in the game, made it 4-0 on the power play with 4:50 to go in period two to pretty much decide the outcome of this tilt.

The Caps did get two quick early goals in period three with Evgeny Kuznetsov setting up both markers (Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky), but they could get no closer. They have now lost two straight games for the just the second time this season (h/t to the Caps Mike Vogel), but each time one of those losses has been after regulation has ended.

Florida certainly has had the Caps number these last two games. They are big and do a good job of keeping the Capitals on the perimeter. If Washington is to face them in the playoffs, it would have to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, because I don’t see the Cats finishing lower than third in the Atlantic Division. Florida is just too good and with stud 19 year old defensemen Aaron Ekblad in the lineup they’ve won 16 straight games. If Ovechkin had played, the Capitals likely score with the man advantage early and this is probably a different game, but that’s hockey.

Overall for the Caps, there were things to like in this one. They dominated possession outshooting the Panthers 65-30 in shot attempts and 38-19 in shots on goal. But the Capitals have to do a better job of being more physical in front of the Cats goalie. They didn’t get bodies there enough to disrupt Montoya, who was in the zone against Washington, once again.

Andre Burakovsky had another strong outing and he had 10 shots on goal. He easily could have had more than 1 tally.

So the Caps fall to 35-9-4 and will face the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Ovechkin will be back and Braden Holtby will get the net. Unfortunately, Marcus Johansson, who was hurt in the Flyers game when suffering an upper body injury, did not practice on Monday so he is doubtful for the Isles game. Jojo is really needed back to fill that third line center role and help carry the puck in on the second power play unit.

But injuries are a part of the game and the Caps need to stop this two game slide and get going. They will now play nearly every other night over the next 68 days so there are no more “we were rusty” excuses.

The grind has begun and the Capitals need to find their rhythm again.

Notes: Brooks Orpik skated on Tuesday and announced that his bone injury, which forced him to stay off of the ice for 8 weeks, is healed up and now he just needs to get in hockey condition. You can expect #44 back in 7 to 14 days…Jay Beagle has been skating and is about two weeks away with his hand injury…John Carlson looked good in his second game back logging 24:17 of ice time…Matt Niskanen, who struggled with the puck and had four shots blocked, led the Caps in ice time with 28:07…Chorney (-1) left the game with the flu and only played 4:34…Washington won the face off battle, 36-33. Backstrom was 14-10…the Caps only had 25 hits in the game (just 5 in the first period, although they had six minutes of power play time)…final special teams totals: Caps 0-8 on the PP in 12:00 and Florida 2-4 in 2:57. There’s your game, folks!

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton greets Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, at midfield after a preseason NFL football game in Baltimore, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The Panthers defeated the Ravens 34-27. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Ravens-related thoughts on conference championship weekend

Posted on 25 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The lack of weapons surrounding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been a major topic of discussion in two of the last three years.

That’s why Cam Newton’s season for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers is nothing short of exceptional. The fifth-year quarterback wasn’t exactly a popular pick to be the league MVP — especially after the Panthers lost No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in August — but he’s done everything he can to silence critics about his play on the field.

To be clear, Newton hasn’t done it alone as he has a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen and the league’s No. 1 rushing attack — to go along with an excellent defense — but to watch him throw for 35 touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating with former first-round bust Ted Ginn Jr., journeyman Jerricho Cotchery, 2014 undrafted free agent Philly Brown, and second-round rookie Devin Funchess as his top four wide receivers?

That’s not exactly a group that instilled fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators.

We’re used to seeing the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers put up impressive passing numbers despite not always having elite talent around them, but Newton deserves the praise he’s receiving as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl. He’s always been dangerous with his legs — he’s rushed for 500 or more yards in each of his five NFL seasons — but to see his passing prowess take off this season with a less-than-stellar group of receivers is worthy of praise.

This isn’t meant as a knock on Flacco as plenty of good quarterbacks struggle to post big numbers without enough high-end talent around them, but Newton has had a special season.

Blind side surprise

Another reason that Newton has had such a successful year has been the play of Carolina’s offensive line, which includes former Raven Michael Oher playing left tackle.

Oher was mostly solid but still considered a disappointment in Baltimore as a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Ole Miss product was even worse with Tennessee in 2014 and was cut just one year after signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans.

So, why the turnaround with the Panthers?

Oher has been reunited with John Matsko, the Ravens’ offensive line coach in his first two NFL seasons. The two share a good relationship, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Oher has gotten his career back on track working with his old offensive line coach.

According to Pro Football Focus, Oher has graded 32nd among all offensive tackles in the NFL — Eugene Monroe was 22nd and Rick Wagner was 53rd — so it’s not as though he’s suddenly blossomed into a Pro Bowl player in his seventh season. But there’s no doubt that he’s played a key part in transforming what was a poor offensive line in 2014 into one of the better ones in the league.

Orange crush pass rush

The Denver Broncos registered a remarkable 20 quarterback hits on Tom Brady — the most any quarterback had taken in a game all season — over the course of Sunday’s 20-18 win in the AFC championship game.

But even more impressive was the fact that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time, according to PFF. It certainly helps when you have a special pair of edge rushers like Von Miller — who will be a free agent this offseason — and DeMarcus Ware, but the Broncos’ success was a reminder that you need to be able to disrupt quarterbacks without leaving your pass coverage compromised.

After losing Terrell Suggs in the opener and having already lost Pernell McPhee via free agency, Dean Pees was left with a front unable to generate consistent pressure with a four-man rush for most of the season. As a result, the Ravens defensive coordinator felt compelled to blitz more, which left an underwhelming secondary even more vulnerable in coverage if the pressure didn’t get there in time. It wasn’t until late in the year with the improvement of rookie Za’Darius Smith that Baltimore started to be more disruptive without blitzing.

It’s easier said than done, but the Ravens need to improve their pass rush for 2016 and can’t just hope that the healthy return of Suggs alone will do the trick.

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Former Ravens coordinator Kubiak going to Super Bowl 50

Posted on 24 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Gary Kubiak had every intention of staying with the Ravens until his dream job suddenly opened up.

A year later, the former offensive coordinator is now going to the Super Bowl. A strong effort by his defense led the Denver Broncos to a 20-18 win over New England, giving Kubiak a shot at his first NFL championship as a head coach.

In his only season in Baltimore, Kubiak not only fixed an abysmal running game, but the Ravens set franchise records by scoring 25.6 points per game and producing 364.9 yards per game. After the season-ending playoff loss to New England last January, the 54-year-old declined interview requests from other NFL teams and even issued a statement that he would be staying with the Ravens before the Broncos parted ways with head coach John Fox the next day.

The subsequent call from former teammate and longtime friend John Elway was the “game-changer” for Kubiak, who had previously spent a combined 20 years in Denver as a player and assistant coach. The Ravens hired current offensive coordinator Marc Trestman soon after Kubiak became the head coach in Denver.

Two other ex-Ravens had big days for Denver on Sunday as tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in the first half and safety Darian Stewart intercepted a Tom Brady pass in Broncos territory in the second quarter. Stewart later left the game with a knee injury, but he told reporters after the AFC championship game that he expected to be ready for Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif. on Feb. 7.

Three other former Ravens will meet Denver in the Super Bowl as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, and Dwan Edwards were part of Carolina’s dominating 49-15 win over Arizona. While Oher started at left tackle for the Panthers, Edwards had a tackle and a quarterback hit as part of the defensive line rotation and Dickson failed to rein in two passes from quarterback Cam Newton.

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Ravens-related thoughts from divisional round

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens fans undoubtedly took satisfaction from watching Pittsburgh lose to Denver in the divisional round on Sunday, but you couldn’t help but be in awe of the Steelers’ speed at the wide receiver position.

Playing without arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger still threw for over 300 yards against the Broncos’ top-ranked pass defense thanks to a 154-yard receiving day from Martavis Bryant as well as contributions from the speedy trio of Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Markus Wheaton. Having caught just one pass in the regular season, the rookie Coates caught two passes for 61 yards to show off the speed that Pittsburgh barely even used in 2015 after taking him in the third round out of Auburn.

That collection of speed nearly overcame a depleted running game that was without DeAngelo Williams as Bryant’s 40-yard run in the first quarter helped set up the Steelers’ lone touchdown of the game. Of course, speed isn’t everything — just ask Pittsburgh’s colossal 2014 third-round bust Dri Archer — but you could easily understand why Joe Flacco cited the AFC North rival’s offense when asked at the end of the season whether he believes the Ravens need to add more speed to the passing game.

“You see what speed does. It does a lot for football teams,” Flacco said. “You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference. It helps.”

If the Ravens want to close the gap with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North, they must find more speed at the receiver position in addition to hoping that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is fully recovered from the partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that cost him his entire rookie season. Watching the Steelers on Sunday was just a reminder that Baltimore was playing a different game in 2015 with receivers incapable of consistently gaining separation or running away from anyone.

The combination of Kamar Aiken and a returning Steve Smith — Jeremy Butler also showed some promise late in the season — should leave the Ravens in good shape in terms of possession receivers, but general manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find another high-end speed guy to go with the unproven Perriman, whether that player comes via free agency or the draft.

When asked at the season-ending press conference, Newsome made it very clear that he would like to add another receiver or two this offseason. Fans will just hope one will make a substantial impact unlike the late-round picks over the last several drafts who’ve been nothing more than roster filler.

The Ravens have an abundance of No. 5 and No. 6 options, but they need to aim higher when looking for a wide receiver this offseason.

Up-and-down Sunday for ex-Ravens

While former Ravens such as Michael Oher, Ed Dickson, Dwan Edwards, Darian Stewart, and Owen Daniels helped their respective teams move closer to Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, ex-Raven Fitz Toussaint wore the goat horns for the Steelers.

The running back’s fumble with 10 minutes to play not only ended a potential scoring drive, but it was the catalyst for Denver’s only touchdown drive of the game in a 23-16 final. Even as Ravens fans took delight in watching Pittsburgh lose, you couldn’t help but feel for the 2014 rookie free agent from Michigan who was very emotional after the game.

Toussaint has received more postseason carries (31) than regular-season rushing attempts (24) in his first two NFL seasons and had 118 total yards in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati, but Sunday is a day he’ll surely want to forget despite scoring his first NFL touchdown in the first quarter.

Coverage linebackers

It’s almost unfair to compare most linebackers to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina, but the Ravens need to find a way to improve their pass coverage with that positional group.

Still one of the better coverage linebackers in the league when the Ravens signed him three years ago, Daryl Smith clearly floundered in that department to the point that second-year linebacker Zach Orr was replacing him in the nickel package late in the season. More concerning, however, were the continued struggles of C.J. Mosley in pass coverage in his second season.

After Mosley became the first rookie to make the Pro Bowl in franchise history, many concluded he would be the next great Ravens defensive player, but 2015 didn’t go as smoothly for him. To his credit, the Alabama product overcame a slow start to play better as the season progressed, but he must improve in pass coverage if he’s to take his game from good to great.

Nod to Manning

This item isn’t related to the Ravens, but I find myself becoming an unabashed supporter for Peyton Manning at this late stage of his career.

You don’t have to be an NFL scout to recognize he’s a shell of his former self physically, but he also wasn’t responsible for a number of dropped passes from Broncos receivers that would have made for a very respectable day against Pittsburgh if some had been secured.

We all break down in various ways as we get older — the man underwent multiple neck surgeries in 2011 and still threw an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes and won the MVP two years later at age 37 — but instead of laughing over Manning’s decline, I appreciate seeing one of the greatest players in NFL history trying to use his incomparable football intellect and years of experience to overcome a once-powerful arm that won’t cooperate anymore. After years at the top of the mountain, Manning has strangely become the underdog trying to hold on at the end of his career.

Even if you’re not rooting for him, that fight still deserves respect.

Manning and the Broncos look like the least likely of the four remaining teams to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Santa Clara next month, but I’ll be happy for him if he’s somehow still standing in the end — even if everyone will obnoxiously remind you over and over that it was more about Denver’s stout defense than him.

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Steve Smith announces return to Ravens for 2016

Posted on 30 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith will return for his 16th NFL season in 2016.

Though the Ravens wide receiver originally intended to retire at the end of the season, a Achilles tendon injury prompted many to speculate that Smith would return in 2016. Multiple reports in recent weeks had indicated the fiery 36-year-old was leaning toward a return, but he made it official on his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon.

Smith had cited a desire to spend more time with his family when he announced his retirement plans on Aug. 10.

“I don’t want to hold on,” Smith said. “I said it this summer: Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver to ever play, but I don’t believe that chasing whatever it is to chase for four more years would be conducive to my family or be conducive to me. I would be having to give up something.”

Smith was among the league leaders at the time of his injury on Nov. 1, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns in seven games. With the Ravens off to a 1-6 start, many had speculated that the 5-foot-9, 195-pound receiver was already contemplating a return for 2016 as he has never won a Super Bowl in his career.

Head coach John Harbaugh and many of Smith’s teammates expressed their belief at the time of the injury that he would return for one more season.

Some of his teammates already knew he would be returning.

“I’m not surprised at all about that,” guard Kelechi Osemele said. “He’s not the type of guy to go out like that. Obviously, we can’t wait to have him back. I know he’s going to come back in the best shape of his life, and he’s going to dominate, because that’s just the type of person he is.”

Smith ranks eighth on the NFL’s all-time list for combined yards (18,381), 15th for receptions (961), and 11th for receiving yards (13,932). Smith and recent Hall of Fame inductee Tim Brown are the only players in NFL history to eclipse 13,000 receiving yards and 4,000 return yards.

Originally selected in the third round of the 2001 draft, Smith spent his first 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers before signing a three-year, $10.5 million contract on March 14, 2014. Though he continues to make his home in Charlotte, N.C. and will be remembered most for what he did with Carolina, Smith has rapidly made his mark in Baltimore both on and off the field.

Now, he’ll have one more year to add to that legacy with the Ravens.

“If you’re in a war, there’s no better guy that you want on your sideline with you in that war than Steve,” five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said. “I’m fired up about it, but I respected whatever he was going to do. If he was going to retire, I was going to be happy. If he was going to play for us, I was going to be happy, because he has earned that respect over the years playing in this league.”

Smith is already the oldest receiver in the NFL and will turn 37 in May.

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Philipp Grubauer makes 26 saves to give the Capitals a chance to win the game in overtime.

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Grubauer Leads Caps in OT Victory Over Florida

Posted on 31 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 3:44 into overtime and the Capitals rode the stellar goaltending of back up Philipp Grubauer to snatch a 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night in Sunrise.

For the first time in 10 games this NHL season, the Caps found themselves in the extra session. With the rules modified in the off season to make the game three on three, vice four on four, it would be interesting to see how Coach Barry Trotz would play things. So instead of being immediately aggressive, Trotz started with two defensemen, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and forward Nicklas Backstrom. That strategy paid off for the first shift before the Caps skill took over and the winning tally occurred with Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov on the ice. On that game winner Kuzya adeptly broke to the net after both Florida defenders thought he’d drop the puck to the Gr8. #92 beat Cats goalie Al Montoya (25 saves) down low and Washington will now leave town on Monday afternoon, after a day off on the beach on Sunday, with a record of 8-2.

Let’s be honest, if this was last season and Justin Peters is in net, the Caps lose this game.

Grubauer (26 saves) was that good and if he doesn’t make several key stops throughout the game, including a breakaway in the second period when it was 1-0, Florida, the Caps lose in regulation. The German goalie was excellent against the Panthers and the Washington players have to feel really good to know that they can play that poorly and sloppily in stretches and still sneak out a victory.

It was far from a pretty win and the Panthers size and tenacity frustrated Washington most of the night. The Caps struggled to break out of their own zone effectively, often making poor decisions and bad passes. The best break outs were on skate outs, and Orlov was one of the better ones at doing that (RIP Adam Oates and his “get rid of the puck in five feet” mandate). It was so ugly that early in the second period, after Grubauer saved the Caps bacon once again, Coach Barry Trotz chewed his team a new one on the bench.

The Capitals would be better, at times, after that, but there were several guys who just didn’t have it on this night.

One player who brought his game in the third period and overtime was Ovechkin. The Gr8 was one of the few Capitals who was winning board battles and moving his feet. Ovi set up Jay Beagle’s game tying tally and his mere presence opened up a lane for Kuznetsov on the winning goal.

Beagle, despite two offensive zone penalties, was good too and earned extra ice time. In fact, it was Kuznetsov who saw his time cut in the third frame for #83. If not for Beagle, Ovechkin, and of course, Grubauer, Kuzya doesn’t get the chance to redeem himself for one of his poorer performances of the season, up until that point. But as they say, there is no substitute for skill, especially with the new regular season overtime rules!

Overall, the Caps went two and one this week despite playing very uneven hockey. But the mark of a good team is one that finds a way to win when it doesn’t have anywhere close to its “A” game. The Capitals brought their “C” game on Saturday, but thanks to Grubauer, they were able to endure and win in overtime.

After practice in Florida on Monday, it’s on to New York for a rematch with the Rangers. I’m sure the players haven’t forgotten the game seven overtime loss last spring. Washington had a series of bad clears and icings in that overtime which led to Derek Stepan’s series winner. Bad clears have crept back in to Washington’s game lately, hopefully they get that corrected in time for Tuesday, otherwise a New York team that is off to a 7-2-2 start will run the Capitals out of Madison Square Garden.

Notes: As bad as the Caps were on their breakouts, the Panthers only had 19 of their 27 shots on net at even strength (the Caps were 3 for 3 on the penalty kill allowing eight SOG). Washington turned the puck over a lot, but they did do a good job of limiting Panthers opportunities, especially rebounds. Brooks Orpik and the Caps blue liners were able to clear away any loose pucks around Grubauer. Most importantly, #31 didn’t allow many of those. He was razor sharp…the Caps out shot attempted the Cats, 48-44. 92 shot attempts in a game is not a lot and it shows how sloppy both teams were…the Capitals won the face off battle, 30-25. Backstrom was 13-9… John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 28:19 and Orpik was second with 24:37… Brooks Laich, Andre Burakovsky, and Chandler Stephenson all played less than 10 minutes…Orlov only logged 12:50 and Nate Schmidt played 10:39 as the third defensive pair. Basically, Coach Trotz rode three lines and two defensive pairs for most of this contest.

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Ravens add veteran cornerback Cason for stretch run

Posted on 09 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens made their latest roster move in the secondary with the addition of veteran cornerback Antoine Cason on Tuesday.

Cason joins the Ravens a week after he was cut by the Carolina Panthers. The 2008 first-round pick out of Arizona will take the roster spot of cornerback Danny Gorrer, who was officially placed on season-ending injured reserve with two torn knee ligaments suffered in the Week 14 win over Miami.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback played in 12 games (11 starts) for the Panthers this season, collecting 58 tackles, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, and six pass breakups. He spent his first five seasons with San Diego and the 2013 campaign with the Arizona Cardinals.

Cason played against the Ravens in Week 4, collecting two tackles as the Panthers fell 38-10 at M&T Bank Stadium.

In 108 career games, the 28-year-old Cason has accumulated 380 tackles, 16 interceptions, 64 pass breakups, and eight forced fumbles.

In other moves, the Ravens signed wide receiver Aldrick Robinson and tight end Allen Reisner to their practice squad and cut Baltimore native and wide receiver LaQuan Williams. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson was signed off the Ravens’ practice squad by the Buffalo Bills and will join their 53-man roster.

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Ravens stock watch entering Week 5

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Steve Smith
Skinny: The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver has impressed since the first day he arrived in Baltimore, but he became the oldest player in NFL history with more than 400 receiving yards in his first four games of a season last Sunday. It’s apparent that Smith has become Joe Flacco’s most-trusted target as the second touchdown the pair connected on against the Panthers came after the quarterback dropped a snap and threw the ball up for grabs in Smith’s direction. He’s unlikely to continue a 1,600-yard pace, but it’s difficult envisioning Smith not blowing past 1,000 receiving yards, assuming he stays healthy.

Joe Flacco
Skinny: Any lingering doubts about the seventh-year quarterback’s ability to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s system are all but gone after Flacco posted a franchise-record 137.4 passer rating in the 38-10 win over Carolina. As if 327 passing yards and three touchdown passes weren’t enough, Flacco was particularly deadly when the Panthers tried to blitz, going 7-for-9 with two scores and 149 yards. After feeling like he had to do it all by himself a year ago, Flacco is once again showing what he’s capable of accomplishing with a good offensive line and strong running game supporting him. 

Terrence Brooks
Skinny: After being inactive in the Ravens’ Week 3 win in Cleveland, the 2014 third-round pick saw the first defensive action of his career against the Panthers, playing 32 snaps and finishing with two tackles while serving as a safety in the nickel package. With the entire secondary in flux beyond No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, Brooks has an opportunity to carve out a role and was complimented by head coach John Harbaugh on Monday. Starting free safety Darian Stewart has struggled in coverage through four games and could be pushed by Brooks or Will Hill when he returns from suspension next month.

STOCK FALLING

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: The veteran wide receiver was mentioned on this list a couple weeks ago, but his struggles are now impacting his playing time as Jones saw just seven offensive snaps while Marlon Brown played 31 and Kamar Aiken saw 14 against Carolina. In addition to another drop, Jones fielded a punt from his own 2-yard line, which is rarely ever a wise choice. It’s painfully obvious that Jones is pressing and his struggles are in his head, so you wonder how much patience Harbaugh and Kubiak will have and if his limited number of snaps against the Panthers is a sign of things to come.

Darian Stewart
Skinny: The veteran had another rough game against Carolina as he was late reacting in Cover 2 to prevent rookie Kelvin Benjamin from catching a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. You can understand strong safety Matt Elam’s struggles when realizing he’s being asked to play the nickel corner spot, but it’s become apparent that Stewart is not the center-field option the Ravens need in the back end of the defense. It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dean Pees awards Brooks more opportunities at safety whenever Lardarius Webb returns and Elam can remain at strong safety.

Jeromy Miles
Skinny: After serving as the free safety in the nickel package in consecutive games, the special-teams standout didn’t receive a single snap with the defense in Week 4 as it appears the coaching staff has seen enough of him in the secondary. The Ravens have struggled to find answers for their pass defense, so you never know when Miles’ name might be called again, but he didn’t do anything to make a noticeable impact. At this point, you get the impression that the Ravens are trying to throw anything they can against the wall in hopes of something sticking.

 

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Ravens-Panthers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens hoped they were moving closer to getting their full secondary back a week ago with the season debut of Lardarius Webb, but the moments leading into Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers provided a different outlook.

After practicing fully all week and not even being listed on the injury report, the sixth-year cornerback was ruled inactive for Week 4 as he continues to try to improve his flexibility and quickness from a back injury that sidelined him for all of training camp. Playing only four snaps against Cleveland last week, Webb appeared slow in his backpedal and was unable to quickly change direction, prompting defensive coordinator Dean Pees to keep him on the sideline for most of the game.

Considering Webb has practiced for nearly a month, the Ravens may need to take a long look at how quickly he can get himself back to an acceptable level of play to help a struggling secondary. Third-year cornerback Asa Jackson is expected to take Webb’s place in the starting lineup once again.

Defensive end Chris Canty (knee) is active after missing practice all week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. He was the only other Ravens player whose status appeared in doubt after left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee surgery) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) were officially ruled out on Friday.

As expected, running back Bernard Pierce (quadriceps), linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle) are active after being listed as probable on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Panthers will be without two key players on Sunday as running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) and outside linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) were both ruled inactive after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. However, Carolina will have the services of starting running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) after he missed the last two games.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad. He’s a new referee this season after serving as an NFL field judge prior to the promotion.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures around 80 degrees with partly cloudy skies, no chance of precipitation, and winds up to five miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys and black pants for the first time this season on Sunday while the Panthers will wear all white.

Former Ravens tight end Todd Heap will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game, becoming the eighth Ravens player to receive the honor.

Baltimore and Carolina will be meeting for the fifth time in the all-time regular-season series with the Panthers holding a 3-1 edge. The Ravens lost the only meeting between these teams at M&T Bank Stadium with wide receiver Steve Smith having a big day against his future team in a 23-21 final on Oct. 15, 2006.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Lardarius Webb
WR Michael Campanaro
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G John Urschel
DT Timmy Jernigan
DE Lawrence Guy

CAROLINA
QB Joe Webb
RB Jonathan Stewart
S Tre Boston
RB Fozzy Whittaker
LB Thomas Davis
OL Andrew Norwell
TE Brandon Williams

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